'PH has strongest tobacco lobby in Asia'

from a report by Ces Oreña-Drilon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2012 10:39 AM | Updated as of Sep 08 2012 01:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate has now held three hearings on the increase in taxes for tobacco and alcohol, but Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima is not happy about the apparent "news blackout" on the sin tax debate.

On his Twitter account (@CVP1960) and through email, Purisima questioned why there is a news blackout on the health effects of smoking.

"Total news blackout of health issue in sin tax debate. There was zero cover of yesterday's dramatic testimonies... Lobby vs sin tax very obvious. We will push hard for DOF version and have been fighting vested interest," Purisima tweeted.

Based on the monitoring of Health Justice, an organization pushing for the sin tax, there are more articles favoring cigarette manufacturers in newspapers.

"We also have information about actual feature articles and cover pages being sold to the tobacco industry," Atty. Pat Luna, senior legal adviser of Health Justice, said.

A research paper by K. Alechnowicz and S.Chapman at the University of Sydney in Australia showed the Philippines has the strongest tobacco industry lobby in Asia.

"The Philippines as among the world's slowest…to take tobacco control seriously... The industry's ability to exploit their commercial and political freedom remains today," the study stated.

The study claimed that cigarette manufacturers manipulate media outlets and politicians to keep the prices of cigarettes low and to keep the subject of its adverse effects out of the news.

It has been 15 years and Congress has been unable to pass the sin tax bill.

"Ito sana maintindihan ng taong bayan na itong ating pag-sulong ng mas mataas na buwis sa sigarilyo ay para sa kapakanan ng nakararami," Sen. Franklin Drilon said.

Government is expected to collect an additional P31.3 billion a year with the enactment of the sin tax bill. The sin tax measure will impose a uniform tax rate on all cigarettes.

"We just count the number of sticks that come out and you know how much taxes will be paid," Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares said.

Credit rating agencies are also waiting for the law to raise the Philippines' rating. This means the country would pay lower interest rates for foreign debt. - With ANC